The Seven Faces of Doctor Who: Snakedance

April 5, 2015 in Dr Who, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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After an unprecedented seven year run it was at last time for Tom Baker to step down from the iconic role of the Doctor and to replace him producer John Nathan-Turner choose Peter Davison. His casting had proved quite controversial at the time with Davison being far younger than any of his predecessors but this didn’t mean he wasn’t an established actor. Quite the opposite in fact as he was very much a popular figure in the early eighties due to his appearances on many highly regarded shows such as All Creatures Great and Small. But none of this could’ve fully prepared him for the immense challenge of following up Tom Baker who had been playing the role for so long that many of the younger audience members couldn’t even imagine anyone else playing the part. So how did he do it? He did it by being completely different to his predecessor in almost every possible way. He also bought a much more human and flawed element to the Doctor which is probably why so many fans of the new
series end up going to Davison first when they begin to explore the classic series. Another difference between him and his predecessor was that he didn’t stay nearly as long, leaving after only three years in the role. This was partially because of advice he received from Patrick Troughton but also because he felt the quality had sipped greatly in his second year, and many fans would agree with this statement. Funnily enough the story I ended up choosing is from this year but don’t worry, it’s one of the good ones. Snakedance was written by Christopher Bailey and it was a sequel to his previous contribution to the series, Kinda. So why did I choose this and not Kinda? Well mainly because Kinda was quite experimental and this is much more representative of the Fifth Doctor’s era as a whole. It also featured Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and Jannet Fielding as Tegan and was directed by Fiona Cumming. I think that’s all I’ve got in terms of general behind the scenes info for this story so not wishing to bore you any further with useless facts let’s more on to the synopsis.

The story kicks off with the TARDIS landing on the planet Manussa which causes Tegan to have a strange nightmare. After questioning her about it the Doctor deduces that the Mara which once controlled Tegan’s mind is trying to assert itself again. While Nyssa watches over Tegan the Doctor explores and discovers that Manuassa is the birthplace of the Mara although the legend of its return is now treated by most as just a load of nonsensical superstition. The Doctor also deduces that the Mara was originally created through a group of minds meeting in the Great Crystal and believes that the Mara will try to use this to come in to being again. Meanwhile, Tegan takes fright and Nyssa loses her amongst the crowds. She then meets up with the Doctor again and informs him of this. The Mara then takes full control of Tegan and then does the same to the Federator’s son, Lon, who knows how to acquire the Great Crystal. The Doctor and Nyssa then go out into the desert beyond the city and find Dojjen, one of the few people on Manussa who believes the legend of the return, who shows the Doctor how to resist the Mara. He then returns to the city where Lon and Tegan have already gained possession of the Great Crystall. They place it in the appropriate place which causes it too feed off of the fear of the people of Manussa and thus allow the Mara to manifest itself as a large and deadly snake. The Doctor is the only one able to resist this which allows him to interrupt the manifestation of the Mara, causing the snake to die and Tegan and Lon to be freed. The Doctor then comforts a distressed Tegan and assures her that the Mara has at last been destroyed.

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Now while this story does technically feature two companions Tegan is very much sidelined during this due to the Mara inside her which allows the much underrated Nyssa to get some time in the spotlight for once. Nyssa is a favourite of mine so any extra attention put on to her is more than welcome. Sarah Sutton’s performance is great and the character herself stands up to the Doctor more than usual in the first half of this story. But Sarah Sutton’s isn’t the only fantastic performance here, far from it in fact as the guest cast is breathtakingly good which causes the regulars to raise their game and become even better than they normally are. One of the guest cast members is Brian Miller which gives us a nice link to our previous story, The Masque of Mandragora, as he is the widower of the late Elisabeth Sladen who of course played Sarah Jane Smith in that story. Here he plays Dugdale and does such a wonderful job with the role that makes it such a great shame that his acting career never really took off. An actor who had better luck with his career afterwards was Jonathan Morris who plays Chela here who almost acts like an extra companion to the Doctor in the latter half of the story.

Then we have Martin Clunes and Colette O’Neil who have a wonderful double act as Lon and his mother Tanha. But that’s not to say their acting abilities aren’t just as good when separated. Martin Clunes especially excels whether he’s with Colette O’Neil or not and his performance is arguably even more enjoyable when Lon is under the control of the Mara. It’s a shame about that ridiculous costume the production team made him wear at the end though. However, the guest cast isn’t all this story has to offer as it also has a fantastic plot which reveals more about the monstrous Mara rather that just continuing on with what they had at the end of the previous story. Here we learn about how the Mara came in to being and while that takes away some of the mystery it still adds to the monster itself. There is also a very nice world created here however I feel that a little bit too much time was wasted in creating it as it all involved a lot of exposition whereas the world in Kinda very much told itself and while there was some exposition there it was very much restricted to what was absolutely necessary. There’s also the issue that visually it doesn’t really get the feeling of this great world across that I feel the script was aiming for. Now while the market place worked well enough for the first few episodes the climax in the cave just didn’t really have this sense that it was supposed to be a massive celebration. Now obviously they didn’t have the budget nor the technology back then to make this work too well by nevertheless I feel this could’ve been done a lot better. On the bright side, the snake has improved greatly since Kinda but still leaves a lot to be desired.

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In conclusion, Snakedance is a fun story with a strong cast helping to support a great script, even if it’s a little ambitious. It’s getting an eight-out-of-ten from me but will my ratings remain so high when we move on to the Sixth Doctor’s era next week. You can find out next week when I review Attack of the Cybermen but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the story in the comments below.